Archive for August 27th, 2017

32. Frasier (1993-2004)


By Patricia Perry

As Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all mailman from Cheers might say: “Here’s a little-known fact:” Kelsey’s Grammer’s Frasier Crane enjoyed the longest unbroken run of any comedic character in television history – a full two decades, to be exact. Expand that distinction to include all genres, and only Marshall Matthew Dillon (portrayed by James Arness on the very long-running Gunsmoke) can match Grammer’s impressive longevity.

It would have been hard to see that run coming based on Grammer’s first appearance on Cheers in 1984. (And here, I’m going to assume that readers are already familiar with that series.) In the Season 3 opener, Frasier was mostly seen in the background and around the edges of the barroom scenes. He’d easily be mistaken for an extra until the final few minutes where he’s revealed to be a psychiatrist brought in by former waitress, Diane Chambers, to help Sam overcome a drinking problem.  He’s also revealed to be Diane’s new beau.

Frasier Crane was meant to be a temporary character, appearing for only a few episodes  to stir up some jealous rivalry between Sam and Diane.  But the producers loved Grammer and kept his character around for all of the third season – and then for the entire remaining run of the series. After Diane left him at the altar, Frasier became a fixture at the titular tavern, eventually meeting and falling for a frosty fellow psychiatrist, Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth). If you look at Grammer’s first season on Cheers, you can understand why he became an integral part of the show’s illustrious history. Both Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers and Grammer’s Frasier Crane were pompous and pretentious, meant to be fish-out-of-water amid the lowbrow bonhomie of the Cheers bar. But where Long’s fussy, mannered performance always kept her palpably aloof her from the rest of the cast,  Grammer projected a more sympathetic, vulnerable, quality – even while blathering away about Freud and Jung.  It’s instructive that the gang at the bar take a liking to Frasier fairly quickly and even laugh at most of his jokes. He fits comfortably into that estimable comic ensemble almost from the get-go.

When Cheers ended in 1993, the creative team of David Lee, David Angell and Peter Casey originally conceived an entirely different show for Grammer, in which he would play a paraplegic billionaire with a sharp-witted live-in nurse. When that idea didn’t pan out, they determined to do a spin-off show for the Frasier Crane character, but with significant changes to differentiate it from Cheers.  To start, Frasier and Lilith were understood to have divorced off-screen, with Lilith retaining custody of their son. The setting was moved from Boston to the character’s hometown of Seattle. For local flavor, the series established a coffeehouse – Café Nervosa, typical of the burgeoning  gourmet coffee scene in Seattle  – as the characters’ gathering place. And the idea of having Dr. Crane working in private practice was rejected as being too similar to the beloved Bob Newhart Show, so Frasier was given a radio call-in show to host instead. (more…)

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